Death. Sex. Money. It’s not often we incorporate these taboo topics into our cocktail party banter. But should we be talking more openly about these very real things? Anna Sale, host and managing editor of popular podcast Death, Sex & Money, thinks so. Her show discusses the “big questions and hard choices that are often left out of polite conversation” like how mental illness can affect a marriage, or a sex worker who is doing her best to support her children.
We got to chat with Anna about everything from life as a newlywed to why she would love to interview Madonna on parenting and what she’s learned from her show.
Congratulations on getting married this past summer! What would you say you have learned about love in your life as a newlywed?
I can remember in the days after our wedding turning to Arthur and saying, “it feels different.” And I think the thing that’s really special about making a lifelong commitment to someone is that love transforms from being ‘I admire this person, I respect this person, I want to be near this person’ to a commitment that becomes much more about ‘this is a family and a life that we’re building together’. So it feels like our love is becoming much more about the team that we’re building and that suits my personality. I love that.
So it feels like our love is becoming much more about the team that we’re building and that suits my personality. I love that.
I feel like it’s a different sort of love; it’s a deepening, and a very rooted kind of love when you are ready to make that commitment [of marriage] to someone.
What has been the most unexpected thing you have learned about love from your show, Death, Sex & Money?
The thing I think about a lot about what I’ve learned on Death, Sex & Money and from interviewing people who are at all different stages of life is that it’s a constant reminder that you don’t just arrive somewhere–there’s not a moment when everything’s figured out–because even if you’re in a moment when things are calm something will shift in your life that will require a new set of problem solving skills.
So I guess that’s what I’ve learned about love, that it’s not going to be finished. And the work of love is very hard work. And the work of companionship is hard work. Because in relationships you have two people who are changing and responding to life and I think in the ideal relationships you’re finding ways to make room for that growth while also constantly soaking the connection that you have together.
I’ve learned not to take love for granted.
On your show you say that death, sex, and money are the things we should talk about more but don’t. How is talking about sex good for relationships? Specifically, how would you say it makes it better?
We are working on an episode right now where we ask listeners to tell us why you aren’t having sex. And we’ve gotten a wide diversity of stories that are really fascinating; from people who have never had sex, to people who had a lot of sex and are now not having sex for one reason or another, and also people who are in long term relationships where sex has just become less and less frequent. It’s clear that sex is one of the most emotionally vulnerable exercises that we have as humans.
Sex can be a source of great connection and it can also, when it’s not clicking, be a source of real isolation in relationships.
And I think to say “talk about your sex life” is very generic advice, but what I think it’s really about is finding ways to understand where your partner is coming from and how you want to express to your partner where you’re coming from.
I think it’s really important because by talking about what’s happening in your sex life hopefully you get to a place of ‘Oh, I didn’t know that was going on with you! Now I feel more compassionate toward you’. Then maybe you might have an example where someone was feeling rejected, but after a conversation they feel loving because they know where their partner is coming from.
Sex is just such a charged thing that very quickly leads to places of not feeling safe or feeling shame, so I think talking about it to get away from that heaviness is important.
We’re not getting away from sex. Sex is there. Ignoring it doesn’t do you any good.
I think navigating sex as new parents is a crucial time to communicate, because you’re really not having sex right away after the baby arrives. So this topic of talking about sex is important for new parents to keep in mind.
When it comes to parenting, I’m not a parent, but I feel like from what I have heard from people in interviews that it certainly ebbs and flows.
And sex in a long term relationship is totally natural and normal and I think it’s figuring out what you need in your relationship to feel connected; like if you feel comfortable giving each other space. Or for example, I require a ton of cuddling, it’s part of my make up.
What is something you wish people would talk more openly about?
I think the hardest thing to talk about is money.
I want to hear more about how people are navigating that, because it gets to so many hard puzzles that we all struggle with when it comes to balancing career, balancing family, figuring out what your priorities are and what you need to survive -- what’s a necessity and what’s an extravagance.
And I think that when you feel like you don’t have enough or you feel like other people have more than you it’s really isolating and opening up more conversation about the feelings that come with money is really important. Because it gets down to that money is all about ‘am I able to take care of myself and my family?’–it’s basic. But there are so many things that make that conversation difficult.
Sometimes it can even be difficult to talk about with your spouse.
Yeah! Because it’s also about power.
Who has been one of the most interesting people you’ve interviewed?
I did an interview with a man named Lawrence Bartley, who has been in prison since he was a teenager for murder in New York.
We talked about his crime, we talked about why he’s been in prison, what it was like to basically become a man behind bars.
But I really loved what he had to say about learning how to be a parent and a husband. He got married while he was in prison, he’s had two kids through conjugal visits while he’s been in prison; we talked about the ways that he communicates with his sons and how he tries to be present in his son’s lives and tries to be a good husband while he’s behind bars–it was really interesting.
It made me realize this is someone who’s had a lot of time to think about what he wants to have that’s positive in his life, and how to be the best husband and father that he can be. So I learned a lot from him.
Who would you love to interview, if you could choose anyone?
Oh, so many people!
I want to hear from Joe Biden in this moment since he’s decided not to run. Because not only is he still mourning his son, but he’s contemplating life outside of public office for the first time in decades. He’s someone who I am curious about what he’s thinking and feeling.
And I would love to interview Madonna about parenting.
I think we know some sides of her quite well, but I want to know what it’s been like as she’s raised her three kids. Now they’re becoming adults -- what has she tried to instill in them? When you’re such a rebel, what do you try to teach your kids? I’d be curious to hear what she has to say about that.
Anna Sale is the host and managing editor of Death, Sex & Money, WNYC Studios’ interview show about the big questions and hard choices that are often left out of polite conversation. She has contributed to This American Life, Fresh Air, All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Marketplace, Studio 360, PBS Newshour, and Slate.